Syrian rebel groups reject Russian-sponsored Sochi conference

The opposition group said Moscow was seeking to bypass a UN-based Geneva peace process and blamed Russia for committing war crimes in Syria

Members of the delegations take part in the peace talks on Syria in Astana, Kazakhstan December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov
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The Syrian opposition group on Monday rejected Russia’s planned Sochi conference on Syria, saying Moscow was seeking to bypass a UN-based Geneva peace process and blaming Russia for committing war crimes in the war-torn country.

In a statement by around 40 rebel groups, which include some of the military factions that participated in earlier rounds of Geneva peace talks, they said Moscow had not put pressure on the Syrian government to reach a political settlement.

“Russia has not contributed one step to easing the suffering of Syrians and has not pressured the regime that it claims it is a guarantor by move in any real path towards a solution,” the statement said.

Russia received backing on Friday from Turkey and Iran to hold Syria peace talks in Russia's Black Sea resort of Sochi next month, a move that the UN special envoy for Syria said should be assessed based on its contribution to the mandated political process under the UN in Geneva.

Russian news reports cited Kazakh diplomat Aidarbek Tumanov, who said that during Friday's meeting in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, the parties agreed to hold the so-called Congress for National Dialogue in Sochi on January 29-30.

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“Russia is an aggressor country that has committed war crimes against Syrians ... It stood with the regime militarily and defended its politically and over seven years preventing UN condemnation of [Syrian President Bashar] Al Assad’s regime,” the statement said.

Moscow says it targets militants but rebels and residents say the Russian air strikes conducted since a major aerial campaign over two years ago has caused hundreds of civilian casualties in indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas away from the front-line.

Some rebels said they had not yet made up their minds.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said that Russia’s plan to convene the congress should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the UN-led Geneva talks on ending the war in Syria.

Turkey has been a supporter of the opposition groups and rebels trying to remove Mr Al Assad from power while Russia and Iran have been his main backers. The three countries have teamed up to help mediate a peace settlement for Syria's conflict, now in its seventh year, which has claimed the lives of 400,000 and caused the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.

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